What Makes a Hero? Portrayals of the Hero in Combat-Related American Movies Before and After 9/11

Chapman, Noelle [Browse]
Senior thesis
95 pages


Xie, Yu [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Sociology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Throughout history, the hero narrative has served as a window into dreams and values of a culture. The present study seeks to investigate the changing system of values surrounding combat in the United States. This study analyzes portrayals of the hero in the 10 top-grossing combat-related movies in the United States during the 15 years after and immediately preceding the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, this study reveals that there is an overarching system of combat ethics present in both time periods. However, movies from the earlier sample questioned this ethical system in a variety of ways. This questioning ceased after 2001. These findings suggest that the trauma of the 2001 terrorist attacks created a cultural idealization of the combat hero, and an avoidance of addressing the difficult moral ambiguities inherent in combat situations.

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